Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Genealogical Finds of 2012

Photo by Pierce Place

As 2012 comes to a close, I’d like to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the last year.  So in my best David Letterman voice, I bring you my second annual top 10 genealogical finds of 2012.
Number 10:  I wrote another book!  I published Volume 2 of my blog and I think this one just might become a bestseller. 

Blog Book

The women on the front are four generations of my family – the baby is my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer; her mother is Bertha Schwartz; her mother is Rebecca Steen; her mother is Hannah Plotzky.  And a special shout out to for the great service – I downloaded the book on Sunday afternoon and it was printed and waiting in my mailbox on Friday. 
Number 9:  A walk through Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma, California – a place where so many of my family are interred. 

I especially liked looking through the registers of burials and cremations.  I would have liked to take more photos but I was trying to be discreet while the cemetery employees were looking things up for me.

Although I already had seen photos of the graves, there was nothing like walking through the cemetery in person to see all of the graves of my family.   And many family names are engraved into the steps in the area where they are interred.

Number 8:  Identifying photos for ancestors whom I’ve never seen before.  While I’ve found many photographs, it was so exciting to finally be able to put faces to the names I’ve been researching.  I know it seems hard to believe that I didn’t have any photos for my maternal grandfather but I didn’t.  Until this year when my mother remembered she had this.
Earle_Gerry 1928
Earle Laurence Martin
Geraldine Martin
I also loved finally seeing a photo of my paternal great grandfather, Herman Levy, who has been a bit of a brick wall for me.  I had this photo but had no idea who he was until I found a copy of his obituary with this photo included.

Herman Levy
Herman Levy

Number 7:  Finding my grandmother’s scrapbook.  It isn’t in great shape but I’ve had so much fun going through it and blogging about what I’ve found.  This project will continue on into 2013 but I have already learned so much about my grandmother as a young woman.

Number 6:  I’ve discovered the letters that my paternal grandparents, Loraine Gunzendorfer and Sigmund Levy, wrote back and forth from 1917-1919 while they were courting.  It is amazing to read the details of what they were thinking, doing, and planning.  I’ve been transcribing these and still have a long way to go but maybe someday I’ll be able to put them all into a book in which the letters go back and forth between them in “real time”.  What a treasure that would be!
Number 5:  I have been able to sort through old military uniforms and other clothing items and have figured out what I have.  Besides me paternal grandfather’s World War I uniform and hat, I have his military overcoat, boy scout uniform, and tuxedo!  Plus I have my dad’s World War II uniforms.  I can’t believe what great shape they are all in!

Number 4:  I was able to do a drive-by of the home my second great grandfather, Louis Schwartz, built in the 1870’s in Santa Cruz.  I’m fairly certain that both my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, and her mother, Bertha Schwartz, were born in this house.  It really hasn’t changed all that much in 140 years!

Schwartz House

I really need to write to the owners and learn more about the house.  I’d like to think they’d love to see this photo from the late 1800’s.
Number 3: Late in 2011 I posted my maternal second great grandmother’s (Rebecca Waller McAboy) obituary from 1928 and hoped that one day I’d find a photo of her.  Because of that post I connected with a new cousin (our great grandmother’s were sisters, both children of Rebecca) and she found a photo of Rebecca.  What a gift it was to open my e-mail early one morning and find this beautiful face staring at me.

Rebecca Moriah Waller 1920
Rebecca Waller McAboy

Number 2:  This discovery came quite by accident and almost had a serendipitous feeling.  The father of Rebecca Steen, my second great grandmother, was Joseph Steen.  I had quite a bit of information on him but I lost him after 1860 – I knew he had died by 1870 but that was as close as I could come.  I’ve been in contact with a researcher who sent me a message in April that she had found the headstone for him with a death date of 1866.  WOW!  We talked in more detail and I asked where he was buried (he lived in Santa Cruz, California in 1860) and she told me a Jewish cemetery in San Jose.  What?  I’m from San Jose and had just been there in March and had visited the cemetery where my dad is.  One thing led to another and it turns out he was buried in the Jewish portion (Home of Peace) at the same cemetery that I had just been to!  And while I was there, I’d gone to Home of Peace to visit our long-time Rabbi who had passed just a year or so earlier.  I was right there and I didn’t even know it.
So when I was back in San Jose in July, I left the airport and drove immediately to Home of Peace Cemetery.  And there was my Joseph Steen buried right next to his brother, Harris Steen!


Moshe Yosef HERE LIES
A noble and a faithful devoted man to God
Died on the eve of Shabat on 15 Av and was buried on 17 Av.
A man of integrity and honesty,
Hard worker and with clean hands and heart.
Never gossip nor lying.
From this world you departed but peace with God you found.

In case this might not be serendipitous enough, check out where in the cemetery Joseph and Harris are located.


See that arrow that is pointing to Joseph’s grave?  And that is Harris immediately to the right and slightly tilted.  And then notice the walkway in the middle?  THAT IS THE WALKWAY WE WALKED ON WHEN WE WERE THERE IN MARCH!  If I had only paid attention, I might have found them myself!  Which proves that when in a cemetery, you should always pay attention to your surroundings.

And my number 1 genealogical find of 2012:  I GOT STUFF!  If it hadn’t been for the stuff I found in my mom’s storage unit, I wouldn’t have had most of these genealogical finds. 

oh boy

This is just a small sample of the boxes and boxes of stuff that had been thrown into cardboard boxes in the storage unit for 30 years.  And before that the stuff lived in my grandmother’s basement for all those years before.  While some of it has been damaged, for the most part it is in unbelievably good condition.  My hope is to get as much as I can identified, cataloged, and preserved for future generations.  It will be quite a challenge but I will love every minute of it.  Who knew?

So there you have it – my top 10 genealogical finds of 2012.  I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!


  1. Debi,
    My sister Mary had told me of your project and how exciting it is! I too am interested in family history but have not done nearly as much work as you have. Keep up the good work. If you ever get down towards Olympia, I'd love to meet up with you. Perhaps we could "dig bones" together at the State historical library. Kathie Chappell Adams

    1. Kathie, great to hear from you. I'd love to talk "dead people" with you one day - they are much lower maintenance than the live ones :-)

  2. Terrific blog post! Such a treasure trove to work from, yes?

    Happy continued hunting in 2013!!


    1. You keep hunting, too, Marilynn. Your work is so appreciated and we love hearing about what you're finding.

  3. This post is T-RIFFIC! And the fun thing for me is that I've seen most of the fruits of these finds in your blogs throughout the year. When I got to the scrapbook, I said, "7?? How could that be #7??" I guess it was hard deciding how to rate these wonderful finds. I hope you'll write more about your books published with Blurb. I keep wanting to do that, but I can't decide what to include. Anyway, Happy New Year!

    1. It was hard, Wendy, to put these in order - maybe next year I should just put 10 and not worry about what order they're in. And as you can see from my next post, I forgot a very important one so now I have 10.5.

      As far as blurb, you can just download your entire blog (which will take awhile) or pick and choose the posts you want to include. I included everything, although I really had to play around with the pictures to get them in the right spot. And in most cases, they're pretty small. Take the plunge - you'll love it!

  4. What a great 2012 you had. I've enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to reading about more of your treasures.

  5. I'm glad you posted these, because I missed so many of these posts the first time around. I wish all blogger did this, there are so many good stories to catch up on. I hate missing the best of the best!